Tomorrow or a week from tomorrow or a month from tomorrow, Nawaz’s fate will be clear.
Either way, we’ve hit a wall. Nawaz goes or Nawaz stays, the transition to democracy has stalled. And it’s hard to see what’ll get it back on track. The great big evolution in this transition, the one triggered by the ouster of Musharraf, was in electoral democracy. You win, you stay — full term, no funny business.
That understanding was forged between Nawaz and BB and it was forged in the fire of more than two decades of mutual self-destruction. When we fight, they win — an equation as obvious as it was difficult to accept. But once it was internalised, a real move forward was possible. You win, you stay — full term, no funny business. The Charter of Democracy.
Asif initially tried to tamper with that, but he was quickly back. Memories are short and the episode short-lived, but the only direct attack against democracy in this transition was launched by the PPP against the PML(N).
It made sense. Asif was a novice and not bound by the pact BB had made. He had always been collateral damage, not the reason the fires had raged before nor the real target of the flames. So he tried to chuck out Shahbaz in Punjab. It didn’t cost Asif — at least not immediately — but it did cost all of us.
Politics is full of such ironies, but this one is specially bittersweet: had Asif not ousted Shahbaz in Punjab, Iftikhar Chaudhry could have remained in limbo. But because Asif used the courts and the Dogar interloper, he brought the iron gavel of Chaudhry crashing on all our heads.
Asif eventually paid a merciless price, the Sharifs even landing memogate in the court of Chaudhry. But Asif is gone, beaten back to his base in Sindh. The rest of us are still here. Ask yourself this: if it weren’t for Chaudhry, would we even be here today, a country in suspense, wondering if another elected Prime Minister is about to marched to the political guillotine?
Yet, for all of Asif’s sins, the stalling of the democratic project was also begun with him. He was its first victim. Asif will never get a fair shake, not now, not ever, but there is a mystery at the heart of Zardari’s PPP. Why has he let it collapse so?
It boggles the mind, an implosion so spectacular outside Sindh that it’s embarrassing to even deploy the Asif-has-achieved-in-10-years-what-the-boys-couldn’t-in-30 argument.
It’s easy to blame corruption. Zardari’s love for property and shady deals are epic vices. But everything we’ve learned, everything we’ve seen in the repeated swatting aside of Bilawal, is of a man who is hungry for more; a man hungry for politics.
Even from the straightforward approach of a man desperate to get back in the political game just to make more money, a subdued, self-sabotaging Asif makes no sense.
Better to run the IK path of electables or the Sharif path of crony capitalism than to shut yourself out of the game altogether. It makes no sense, except for this: Asif doesn’t believe the boys will ever let him return to power.
Why struggle for Punjab or in KP if in your heart of hearts, you don’t think they’ll ever allow you to return to the top of the pile? Why not just protect the base and plot for second best?
Scoff at it, decry it, but Zardari’s predicament is about a devastating power struggle and one side’s perception of the other. And not to put too much of a gloss on it — it is, after all, Asif — but it is about breaking the civilians. Asif was their first victim.
Now, it’s Nawaz’s turn. It makes a difference if he survives or not. Democratic form is the most obvious path to democratic substance. But already something else has been signalled across this land. On this day, a day before the submission of a report that seems more anticipated than the results of election night, it is shockingly clear: Nawaz can be ousted.
That right there is the transition hitting a wall. Nawaz may survive. He may not. But he’ll only survive as Nawaz the Prime Minister that the country believed the boys could have ousted if they wanted to.
That right there is the power equation. And Nawaz is on the wrong side of it. But forget about Nawaz. And Asif. And IK. A tragedy of our democracy is that it is made out to be about someone else’s loss.
Oh no, they’re after Asif. Actually, Asif deserves it. Oh no, they’re after Nawaz. Well, maybe Nawaz deserves it. Oh no, they’ve got it in for IK. But could IK have behaved better?
Tomorrow or a week from tomorrow or a month from tomorrow, Nawaz’s fate will be clear. But the fate of the transition to democracy already is. If they can get the Prime Minister, the transition is about as weak as it was when it began. That’s our loss, yours and mine. Democracy isn’t Nawaz, Asif or IK; it’s what they, the boys, can snatch from us.
And that brings us to the final problem. Survive or not, Nawaz already looks like a loser. Win the election next year and a template already exists to bleed him carefully over the next five years.
And so from inside that wretched pit, the one the transition may have plunged into, there is that desperate temptation: may as well let IK have his turn? The transition to democracy, after all, may already have hit a wall.
By arrangement with Dawn